The editor and publishers of FULL-THROTTLE SPACE TALES: SPACE GRUNTS have graciously allowed us contributors to post segments of our stories here for you guys to see. Obviously it's only a portion but it's hoped you'll like what you see enough to pick up a copy. It's a crazy scheme but it just might work. These are stories of soldiers on the front lines, coming home, fighting, dying, winning, losing and they are a hell of a lot of fun. Mine isn't even the best. If you want more, there's a clickable link on the left. Right there. Here's the cover. And here's the story. Part of.
By Geoffrey Thorne
[MEMORIAL CAPSULE: HYPERCAST: CHAN, TSAO: CAPT. CGS APEX]
Please forgive my familiarity. Your core life metric indicated you prefer not to be addressed by title and I am attempting to respect your wishes. I remember you when we put out from the Bridge Station on Ganymede. You and your spouse seemed so proud seeing your own child among the Apex’s inaugural crew. In fact I shared your feeling.
Apex is a new ship, one of the new Sabre class that CoreGov Tactical believes will turn the tide of the war.
It is a terrible thing to have to inform a parent of the death of their child. It is a terrible thing to hold oneself responsible for that death. There are no words, not in any human language nor in any of the alien ones to which I’ve been exposed, that can ever encompass or adequately describe the awful grief that follows such a tragedy.
I won’t presume to tell you the things you must certainly already know about your child. No stranger can reveal much to a parent that they didn’t nurture or battle themselves over the years. You were there at the beginning and through all of the firsts and seconds and thirds. All we see is the end product of your hard and, in this case, exceptional work. [HYPERCAST TRANSMISSION INTERRUPTION//REACQUIRE//]
“Jesu!” said SM Boylan just as the hull burst ahead of her. She had only a microsecond to vault backwards over the lip of the access hatch, away from the blast. Just in time. Even as the shards of flying metal shredded Nelson and Kim to chunks of flesh and a thick crimson fog, the plexi seal came down at either hatch point, sealing the ruptured area off.
Safe. She was safe. For the moment.
There was hard vacuum rushing in there now, forcing what little atmo that remained to whoosh out into the dark and carrying Kim and Nelson’s confettied remains along. The claxon went off even as she was smacking the comm node to signal the bridge of her status.
“C and C,” she barked over the siren’s wail, “This is SM Boylan. Apex has been breached. Two span of deck fourteen, hullward, is exposed and gone. Screens at hatch points are locked so the bubble is secure. Waiting for sealant. Affirm.”
“Affirmed,” said the voice stretched to nearly robotic thinness by its trip trough the grid. “Casualties?”
“Adjunct Kim and Spaceman Nelson, KIA,” she said, natural adrenaline having pounded her emotions flat for the moment.
“SimGrav and spark read active at your position,” said the voice. “Affirm.”
“That’s affirmed, C and C,” she said, taking minor pleasure in the fact that she was not floating around a dark and icy corridor either whole or in bits. “What the hell happened?”
“Unknown at this time,” said the voice. Probably Rogers but she couldn’t be sure. “Are you injured?”
“Stand for orders,” he said.
Boylan watched as sealant foam flooded the space between the plexi sheets, filling it like a wave of cottage cheese. In ten seconds it would be as hard as the hull and the plexi would retract.
Her hands shook a bit, partly from the close call and partly from the adrenaline the near miss had sent surging through her. They quieted soon enough and her mind started in on her lists.
What happened? Possible attack. Possible collision. Possible defect-inspired structural failure. Protocol? Go hot and get set to repel boarders? Dig in and ride out the passage through this asteroid swarm or whatever it was? Wait for the brass, or figure out what the hell was up on her own? Get hold of Alex before she had to kiss her ass good-bye?
As the sirens continued to scream, Boylan sparked up her BIORB, telling the little implant to tap the nearest AI for current ship status. C & C wouldn’t tell her more than they felt she needed to know but there was often a massive gap between what the brass thought was important and what could save her life.
“Data, data, data,” her dad had always told her. There’s safety in data.” He’d never been proved wrong yet.
Something had punched Apex in the guts, puncturing Boylan’s position as well as sixteen others on the port hull. So far there were only three more losses beyond Nelson and Fisk with some injuries being tended on the spots. The brass were up there hanging response scenarios.
Tick, tick, tick, she thought, clocking the seconds. Tell me something. She wasn’t good to anybody just sitting there but, without knowledge of which protocol to run, she couldn’t move either. She hated not being able to do anything. More than that, she wanted something to hit.
When the second volley of whatever-it-was pounded Apex again, this time killing the gravity and slamming her hard into the opposite bulkhead, Boylan found she wanted something to murder.
Her BIORB flooded her brain with casualty reports and system failures so numerous and immediate that she was forced to mute it to spare herself the cascade
“This is C and C,” said Rogers’s voice, now recognizable through the static. “All decks report casualty and damage numbers. Affirm.”
“Hit them back,” she said, knowing he couldn’t hear her and would heed her if he could. The brass kept their own time.
This second impact had killed the grav and set her flying so now she was obliged to flail every limb in hopes of finding purchase on one of the surfaces she slammed into. Finally her fingers caught the lip of the bulkhead seam and she was able to right herself.
She hung there, waiting for her BIORB to tamp down her heart rate and tweak her adrenals.
Then the lights went out.
[HYPERCAST TRANMISSION REACQUIRED// LOADLINK ACTIVE]
By now you certainly know of some of our situation here, Elliot. Apex was dispatched by CoreGov Tactical to track and destroy a Mercanti [datalink: MERCANTI] spore reaper that had been devastating our colonies on the Rim worlds. We are also tasked with defending the remaining worlds from further incursion.
The reaper is an horrific weapon, Elliot, truly like something out of a nightmare. I am prohibited by Core Directive A1HB from describing either its specific effects or design but I can say that Dante would have had trouble processing the atrocity of its transmutative attacks.
Apex was forced to cleanse both Pollux and Samsara II of all organics rather than let a single Mercanti spore-child off either planet. There were ten billion humans spread between both those worlds, not to mention the pets and livestock and the indigenous forms. The Mercanti [REDACTED] them all, forcing us to obliterate what they left behind
The Mercanti are a vicious species. There’s no other way to describe them. Vicious. Brutal. Implacable. There is no reasoning with them. There is no commonality of experience between us and them from which to form diplomatic bonds. Their only drive seems to be the destruction of any intelligent life that is not identical to their own.
There is a reason CoreGov doesn’t reveal the details of their attacks to the general population and why I can’t do more than hint now. Let me just say that there are some deaths that are far more desirable than anything the Mercanti allow. They must not be permitted to approach the central Core.
I don’t say all this to blunt the effect of this communication or to distract you from your grief. I simply want to paint some picture of the situation out here that, perhaps, the newsfeeds and immersion holos can’t provide. You should know how it is, how it really is. I believe it will help you to know.
There’s no need to recount the details of our pursuit and confrontation of the reaper. There are seventeen remaining Rim colonies and, so far, we have managed to keep them safe [datalink: RIM WORLDS]. I will tell you that the battle resulted in the reaper’s crippling and a high number of casualties among my own crew.
Despite our victory, our situation, I won’t hesitate to tell you, was and, to some degree, remains, dire. >>>>DATA STREAM CORRUPTION EXTANT>>> SCRUBBING>>>]
The lights were back, thank Jesu.
The simGrav reasserted but poorly. The ceiling was the floor now and, as she jogged along its uneven contours, trying not to stumble on what had just been the overhead lights, she had to wonder what the hell the skipper was playing at.
Why hadn’t they swiveled the turrets? The whole point of the damned Sabre class was that its breach engines were also its cannons. Anything big enough- she knew it had to be the sodding reaper back for another go- to smack this much hell out of Apex needed to be slapped back, fast and Hard. Slapped to death if they could manage it. The Breach cannons had been used to purge two planets so far and to put whopping big holes in the flesh of the reaper they’d been sent to kill.
The twenty-five Sabres and their Breach weapons were CoreGov Tactical’s best shot at ending this. Everybody at home knew it and Apex had been sent out here to give the Mercanti the news.
Only, since when did the reapers turn and fight back? When did the big spore makers ever engage in nose-to-nose space fights? They were planet killers or, more correctly, she supposed, reformers. The bastards didn’t kill the populations they attacked. It would have been a mercy if they did. Instead the Mercanti reapers rained those hellish spore things down on them. The spores turned anything they touched into hideous tentacled monsters that screamed and killed and ate everything, even one another. The brass called them spore children.
The spores the reapers belched out turned anything living into that in just about the time it took for someone to describe. Too fast to stop it once the attack was underway.
But they’d never, not once, turned and fought back against an attacking cadre of ships.
Maybe we never had anything big enough to bug them before, she thought and smiled. The holes Apex put in the reaper during that first skirmish had obviously been severe enough, if not to kill it as they had thought, then to force it to rethink its program. Maybe the brass knew what they were doing after all.
So, why in the hell hadn’t they swiveled the turrets? If it was something tactical, they needed to get their heads out of their asses and finish the thing, now. If it was something technical, some glitch or damage that was holding things up, she wasn’t equipped to help. There wasn’t much call for hand–to-hand in space.
“Hit them back,” she said again, to no one. “Hit those bastards back now.”
Causes Geoffrey Thorne Supports
Operation USA, Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders,